SEC Uses Its Powers under the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provisions to Warn Employers Against Attempting to Restrict Employees’ Ability to Report Potential Violations
On April 1, 2015, the SEC announced a settled enforcement proceeding against KBR, Inc., a publicly traded, Houston-based technology and engineering company, for including “restrictive language” in confidentiality agreements used in the course of internal investigations. This is the first time the SEC has used its enforcement powers under Rule 21F-17 of the Whistleblower provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Rule 21F-17 provides that “[n]o person may take any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation, including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement … with respect to such communication.”
The language to which the SEC took exception appeared in confidentiality agreements KBR used in connection with internal investigations. The statement, which investigators required employees to sign before the interview, was included … Read More »
There was not much activity from the SEC Office of the Whistleblower (OWB) in the months since it announced the highest whistleblower award to date in September 2014, but that changed in February when it issued a number of denials. The following is a summary of what’s happened since our last whistleblower award update:
In the Matter of the Claim for Award, Exchange Act Rel. No. 72947. On August 29, 2014, the SEC issued its first award under the Dodd-Frank Act to an employee who performed audit and compliance functions. The employee, who had compliance responsibilities, received an award of $300,000. Generally, information provided to an individual with compliance responsibilities is not considered “original.” Such an employee is entitled to an award, however, if they first report the misconduct to the company and it subsequently fails to take action within 120 … Read More »
UPDATE: Third Circuit Affirms Arbitrability of Dodd-Frank Retaliation Claim in Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1689, 2014 WL 6871393 (3d Cir. Dec. 8, 2014).
In March, we wrote about a ruling out of the District of New Jersey enforcing an arbitration provision contained in an employment agreement that pre-dated Dodd-Frank. The court reasoned that to disregard a pre-Dodd-Frank arbitration provision “would fundamentally interfere with the parties’ contractual rights and would impair the predictability and stability of their earlier agreement.” Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., Civil Action No. 13-4149 (SDW)(MCA), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31142 (D.N.J. Mar. 11, 2014). The court also emphasized the “strong federal policy in favor of the resolution of disputes through arbitration” and cited a number of other federal courts that have reached a similar result. Id.
The Third Circuit, though, declined to reach this issue. Instead, it determined that Khazin’s claim, which was brought under Dodd-Frank, was not subject to the Anti-Arbitration Provision at all. 2014 WL 6871393, at *2. … Read More »
By all accounts, 2014 was a year of tremendous success for the SEC’s Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program. According to its 2014 Annual Report to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program, the SEC paid nine whistleblower awards, including a record $30 million award to a single whistleblower. SEC’s 2014 Annual Report to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program. Sean X. McKessy, the Chief of the Office of the Whistleblower, told Congress that these awards exceeded the number of awards made “in all previous years combined.” In addition, the SEC brought its first enforcement action under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act.
The Annual Report offers more than just numbers, however. Without disclosing whistleblower identities, the Annual Report provides a “profile” of award recipients. Notably, more than 40% of the individuals who received awards were current or former employees of the company about … Read More »
The SEC recently announced a record-breaking whistleblower award of $30-35 million, which shattered the previous high award of $14 million. See SEC Awards More Than $14 Million to Whistleblower. Not only is this award noteworthy for its size, but also because it was made to a foreign resident and it could have been even higher if the whistleblower did not unreasonably delay in reporting the violations.
This was not the first award made to foreign residents, but it was the first award made to a foreign resident since the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the anti-retaliation protections of Section 21F(h) of the Dodd-Frank Act do not apply to foreign whistleblowers who experience retaliation overseas from foreign employers. Liu v. Siemens, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014); see also Made for the U.S.A. … Read More »
Since our last quarterly update, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”) has issued four denial orders and three award orders. Here are some lessons learned from this activity:
• The SEC Will Not Award Whistleblowers Who Provide Frivolous Information. The SEC determined that a claimant (who submitted “tips” relating to almost every single Notice of Covered Action”) was ineligible for awards because he/she “has knowingly and willfully made false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements and representations to the Commission over a course of years and continues to do so.” Under Rule 21F-8, persons are not eligible for an award if they “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, or use any false writing or document knowing that it contains any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry with intent to mislead or otherwise hinder … Read More »
In a first of its kind case, the SEC last week charged an investment adviser to a hedge fund with, among other things, retaliating against an employee who reported allegedly illegal trading activity to the agency. The SEC exercised its authority under a Commission rule adopted in 2011 under the Dodd-Frank Act, which permits enforcement actions based on retaliation against whistleblowers.
Under the Exchange Act, employers may not “discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, directly or indirectly, or in any other manner discriminate against, a whistleblower in the terms and conditions of employment because of any lawful act done by the whistleblower.” 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)(A). The Act also provides that the Commission “shall pay an award or awards to 1 or more whistleblowers who voluntarily provided original information to the Commission that led to the successful enforcement of the covered judicial … Read More »
Recent Decision Demonstrates Reach of Lawson; Extends SOX Whistleblower Protections to Employee of a Nonpublic Subsidiary of a Public Issuer
We recently blogged about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC, 571 S. Ct. __, 188 L. Ed. 2d 158 (Mar. 4, 2014), which held that the whistleblower protections in section 1514A applied not only to the direct employees of public companies, but also to employees of private contractors and subcontractors serving public companies. See “Lawson and Doral Expand Whistleblower Protections,” SECurities Law Perspectives (Apr. 2, 2014). Taking the lead from Lawson and more recent decisions from the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that an employee of a nonpublic subsidiary of a public issuer could proceed with his retaliation claims against the company. Wiest v. Lynch, __ F. Supp. 2d __, Civil Action No. 10-3288, 2014 WL 1490250, at *18–23 (E.D. Pa. Apr. … Read More »
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s whistleblower program was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Act. Under the program, the CFTC will provide awards to whistleblowers who report violations of the Commodity Exchange Act when the information leads to an action that results in more than $1 million in sanctions. Today, the CFTC announced its first whistleblower award.
Although the CFTC did not disclose the identity of the whistleblower or the enforcement action that resulted from the information provided, it did confirm that the person will receive approximately $240,000. Gretchen Lowe, Acting Director of the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement, said that the “whistleblower provided specific, timely and credible information that led to the Commission bringing important enforcement actions.” With respect to the types of information being reported by whistleblowers, Ms. Lowe said that the program “is attracting high-quality tips and cooperation … Read More »
The SEC recently announced that it has denied whistleblower claims in connection with three different matters and awarded an additional $150,000 to the inaugural recipient of an award under the SEC’s whistleblower program.
The SEC denied a whistleblower award claim relating to its case against penny stock promoters for fraudulently hyping Anscott Industries. See SEC v. Esposito, No. 08:00494 T26 (M.D. Fla. June 30, 2011). In Esposito, the court entered final judgments against the defendants ordering them to pay more than $20 million in disgorgement and civil penalties in a fraudulent touting case. The SEC denied the award because (1) the claimant failed to submit the claim within 90 days of the Notice of Covered Action and failed to demonstrate such tardiness should be waived based on extraordinary circumstances as “claimant failed to diligently pursue the claim for award upon termination … Read More »